Watch Your Back, Technology Is On The Verge Of Putting Many Office Jobs At Risk

Technology is changing so fast that what kids are learning in college is out of date by the time they graduate.

Watch Your Back, Technology Is On The Verge Of Putting Many Office Jobs At Risk
A new survey shows that technology is having a deep and pervasive impact on hiring. [Top Photo: Inok/Getty Images]

If you work in an office admin job, here’s some depressing news to keep you awake at night (sorry): Your job could be at risk over the next five years. That’s according to a big new survey published to coincide with the World Economic Forum conference in Switzerland in January. Across 15 advanced and developing economies, it finds that technological change will put a total of 7.1 million people out of work, with two-thirds of those coming in “office and administration” type roles.


WEF commissioned a survey of HR managers at 371 companies and found that technology was having a deep and pervasive impact on hiring and firing choices. Some of those impacts are positive: the managers expect growth in computer and mathematical fields, in architecture and engineering, and in financial management. But they expect the overall effect to be negative, with big data, cloud technology, and the internet of things all dampening employment prospects in office and admin.

The predictions are in line with several pessimistic reports recently. “Routine manual” and “routine cognitive” (which include many office-type jobs) are already in decline in advanced economies. And that’s before we see new types of technology, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, really take hold. The HR managers generally don’t see those advances having much impact before 2020. But that’s not to say that robots won’t start taking jobs away in the next decade.

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning [are] expected to lead to negative employment outcomes [across] Education and Training, Legal and Business and Financial Operations. [But] our respondents do not believe that these technologies will have advanced significantly enough by the year 2020 to have a more widespread impact on global employment levels,” the report says.

The news isn’t all bad. The HR managers expect big demand for data analysts who can “make sense and derive insights from the torrent of data generated by the technological disruptions” and for “specialized sales representatives” with the knowledge to explain advanced products to customers. The HR managers expect more employment for HR managers(!) as well as for people specialized in materials, bio-chemicals, nanotech and robotics, regulatory and government relations, geospatial information systems, and industrial design.

Flickr user Matthew Hurst

Given the pace of technological change, the report says we can’t rely on traditional education to keep people up to speed. Much of the stuff people learn today in the first years of their college degrees is out-of-date by the time students graduate, it notes. Companies will need to do more re-skilling and up-skilling as a result.

“It is simply not possible to weather the current technological revolution by waiting for the next generation’s workforce to become better prepared,” the report says. “It is critical that businesses take an active role in supporting their current workforces through re-training, that individuals take a proactive approach to their own lifelong learning and that governments create the enabling environment, rapidly and creatively, to assist these efforts.”


Read more from the report here.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.